Eiko Kadono is one of Japan’s most loved writers of children’s fiction. Her series of book on Kiki (魔女の宅急便) , the witch who starts her own delivery service, has run into several delightful volumes and millions of Japanese have followed the adventures of Kiki, her cat Jiji and other characters in her village faithfully.
Miyazaki’s third film for Studio Ghibli – Kiki’s Delivery Service-takes inspiration from the first of Kadono’s novels but deviates quite a bit from the stories. While the book is more poetic and episodic in nature, Miyazaki’s film is far more linear and is a feast to the senses. Kiki, is a small witch, who, following the traditions of witchcraft, has to leave home when she turns 13 to try making a living for herself in another town. She needs to use her magic powers and establish herself within a year as a successful witch in her new neighborhood. The young Kiki, embarks on this adventure with her trusted cat Jiji (who talks quite a bit in the novels) and her mother’s broom. In the new town she decides to start a delivery service, given that she can fly quite quickly from one place to another on her broom.
However, life is not easy in the big coastal town that Kiki decides to settle down in. Through the story, she slowly learns to live in a urban setting and many obstacles arise as she tries to get her business going. Loneliness and a feeling of vulnerability accompany Kiki throughout her story, as each challenge become bigger and more difficult. How Kiki, the adolescent grows into maturity through these trials forms the backbone of this simple and delightful film.
There is a bit of magic-realism to Kiki’s Delivery Service as cars and planes coexist without much trouble in a world with witches on flying brooms. And the animation, as always is exhilarating and beautiful. Simple water-color touches add depth to the big town and make it vivid and vibrant. Another interesting touch that Hayao Miyazaki adds to the film is mixing the past, the present and the future in his representation of the setting and thus make it timeless. Classic cars, modern buildings, dirigibles and witches and cats on flying brooms all take space seamlessly in the representation. The supporting cast, inspired by the book, is filled with lovable characters who steal the scene whenever they make an appearance.
It is through these people who surround her and their small caring gestures that Kiki finds her path to adulthood. The epilogue of the film which follows an ending, that might at first glance, look abrupt, gives a narrative to each of these characters and rounds off the picture perfectly.